Protest Murals

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Our days on the beaches in Sardinia were some of the most restful of the whole year.  We kept it easy.  During that time, we didn’t visit a single church or museum.  We didn’t explore the streets, stores or restaurants (in fact, we hardly saw the towns at all).  It was all about the beach and sun.

But when it was time to leave, we chose to mix things up a little and take the long route through Sardinia’s interior. Known for mountains, wilderness, shepherds and bandits, we felt we were venturing into Italy’s wild west.  We only had time for one stop so we chose Orgosolo.  This village has a history of Robin-Hood-style outlaws, government revolts, kidnapping and protest.  Earlier in the week we met a man from there.  We asked him to tell us some stories.  He just shook his head and said, “I see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.”  It sounded like a great movie setting.

It was the winding, narrow road up the Supremonte mountain range that proved to be the most challenging part of the excursion.  The last 10 miles were some of the sharpest curves we’ve ever driven, literal hairpin angles.  It was fun for us in the front seats, but the boys in the back got carsick.

When we arrived at Orgosolo, we parked the car, locked our valuables in the trunk and told the kids to stay close.  While there haven’t been many bandits or kidnappers in the last 10 years, we still wanted to be careful.  As it turns out, Orgosolo was tame and non-threatening.

In fact, it’s bright and lively and covered in paint.  The town is like an outdoor museum with over 200 murals on the houses and storefronts.  It started in the 70s when the townspeople took to painting their frustration and outrage.  These pictures are full of passion and energy and somber reminders of human suffering.  We spent all our time just walking the streets and looking at all the stories.

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We left Orgosolo after a big Sardinian lunch.  Then after one night in the region’s capital of Cagliari, we caught a plane back to Perugia. This was the last trip we will take.  In five days, our year in Perugia is over and we will be returning home.  I’m full of emotion now.  There are so many feeling running through my mind. I’m stressed about packing, sad to say goodbye to the Italians, depressed about leaving this awesome apartment in the center of town. I’m curious about returning home, and I’m also so excited to see our friends and our families.  But I feel fear about our big transition.  It’s hard to believe this is all going to be over so soon. I don’t know what to expect when we get home, but I keep thinking about something my uncle told me after his three weeks in Perugia, “You will laugh and breathe freedom when you get home and miss Perugia for the rest of your life.”

If I could paint protest murals, one of them would be against the frustrating inflexibility of time.  I just hate when things I love become only memories.

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A Little North of Umbria

Urbino:  The Duomo and Duke Federico's Palace

Urbino: The Duomo and Duke Federico’s Palace

The day after school got out, we left Perugia for our longest trip of the year.  This morning we’re in Ferrara, sleeping in after six days of heavy sight-seeing. Soon we will head to Sardinia for our second week.

We started in Urbino, our first visit ever into the region of the Marches.  This small town is where Raphael was born, and if you didn’t know it upon arrival, it was a hard fact to miss; many streets, restaurants and piazzas are named after him and his masterpieces.  His centrally located home is now preserved as a museam. There is also a large monument in his honor as well as many of his original and reproduced paintings around town.
There's Raphael with his paintbrushes

There’s Raphael – way up on top

Urbino also prides itself on the legacy of Duke Federico who ruled the city in the 1400s and is known for being a fantastic mercenary and true Renassance man.  We toured his palace and walked through the piazzas and courtyards that he commissioned.  His image has been painted all over.  (He is always viewed from his left profile because he lost his right eye in a duel.)
Piero della Francesca's famous portraits of the Duke and Dutchess of Urbino.  The original is in the Uffizi, but the town is filled with copies.

Piero della Francesca’s famous portraits of the Duke and Dutchess of Urbino. The original is in the Uffizi, but the town is filled with copies.

On the way north to the region of Emilia Romana, we cooled off at “Acquafan.” Not surprisingly, it’s been the best part of the trip for the boys.  There were 19 waterslides, a wave pool, swimming pools and granitas served in tall, take-away containers.  You could order up to seven flavors at once.
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Then we headed to Ravenna, one of the cutest towns in Italy.  Its pedestrian streets look like a movie set, and its churches are world famous for their 1500-year-old mosaics.  Present-day Ravenna has embraced the mosaic motif and created modern designs on nearly everything: garbage cans, planters, store fronts, and street signs.
charming Ravenna

charming Ravenna

our hotel's street

a street sign

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of colored glass make the ceiling of this centuries old mausoleum.

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of colored glass make the walls and ceiling of this ancient mausoleum.

This beautiful city has more that mosaics.  Tom was excited to visit the Duomo’s famous labyrinth said to absolve Christians of their sins.  However, once he saw how small and simple it was, he gave me a familiar look of disappointment.  I think he was hoping it would be made of hay.
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Our last stop out of town was to the Boarderline art exibit which featured famous works by 20th century artists on the boarderline of insanity and normalcy.  Many of the pictures looked like nightmares or crime scenes.  However, the museum cheered us up with more mosaics on the first floor.
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And now we are in Ferrara warding off mosquitos.  There is a castle across the street with the most swampy green mote I’ve ever seen (which satisfied our curiosity as to the mosquito population.)
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Looking forward to this evening when we visit the oldest wine bar in Europe, Al Brindisi. Copernicus drank here.

Looking forward to this evening when we visit the oldest wine bar in Europe, Al Brindisi. (They say that Copernicus drank here.)

Spello, Luke’s birthday and a couple personal cliff-hangers

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There was some kind of unexplainable, weird energy enveloping us this weekend that began once we set out on our trip to Spello.  We found ourselves constantly torn between feeling cursed and somehow protected.

We chose to visit Spello because of its acclaimed Infiorita, an annual flower festival in which the town stays up all night carpeting the streets with intricate mosaics made entirely out of flower petals.  This year, the Infiorita fell on Luke’s birthday. On Sunday, he would have been 14.  After looking for something special to do in honor of our son, we decided that a city covered in flowers would be a safe and sweet setting for our love and sadness.

On Friday, we packed our bags and headed out. First I wheeled my suitcase to the post office where I mailed a letter.  Then I met Matt and the boys for our drive.  We arrived in Spello nearly an hour later.  That’s when it began. Matt started unloading the car and then portentously asked why my suitcase wasn’t in the trunk.  I could feel my heart sink.  As I retraced my steps I realized I must have left it sitting in the post office.  I pictured it there, all by itself with my computer inside (loaded with every digital picture I’ve taken since we arrived) and also packed with several other material possessions with which I’m attached.  We had no choice but to immediately go look for it.  The ride was grueling as I tried to come to terms with my stupidity and the loss of my belongings.  I imagined the rest of the year without writing emails or a blog. I dreaded having to buy a new computer.  The questions ended when we entered the post office and saw my black suitcase standing in the middle of the room right where I left it.  It had apparently remained untouched for two hours.  We marveled at our astounding luck before once again driving to Spello.

That night in our hotel, after we were all sound asleep, my phone rang.  It was the landlord of our next-door neighbor in Perugia.  She said her tenant had just called because he was worried; our apartment door has been wide open all day.  He had finally decided to shut it, but was wondering if we were okay.  In my foggy haze, I imagined robbers had forced their way in and were emptying our cupboards and drawers in search of  something valuable.  I woke Matt and we assessed the likelihood of a break-in.  We considered the timing and the difficulty of getting past our thickly bolted door at the top of our six story building.  We decided it was most probable that one of us (me) accidently left the door open on our way out and that there was no need to hurry back to Perugia.  Needless to say, sleep was elusive.

There would be more suspense; but first, the beautiful flower mosaics of Spello:

Saturday was full of activity.  In the evening, teams of artists began constructing their pictures.  Many groups set up long tents over their work and hung electric lights inside to illuminate their progress through the night.  The streets were lined with children, parents and grandparents sorting flowers by color and cutting petals into different sizes.

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Visitors from all over Umbria and beyond crowded the space to see how the garden art was made.  The designs were first drawn on paper, which was stuck to the ground.  Flowers were then arranged on top according to the color that was specified by the artists.  As the night went on and more and more petals were laid out, unbelievably detailed scenes emerged.

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By 8am the next morning, only the finishing touches remained.  Finally once the tents were removed, everyone could see the stunning work that was created during the night.

Pope Francis and St. Francis

Pope Francis and St. Francis

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The disheartening aspect of this tradition is the bishop’s procession.  Just three hours after the mosaics are complete, a holy entourage exits the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and gets to walk over all the pictures.  With these footsteps, the painstaking work is ruined. Even though this procession is all part of the festival, it seemed such an appalling demonstration of disrespect.  It was upsetting to watch even though the mosaics were made for that purpose.

The bishop and his entourage entering the streets of Spello

The bishop enters the streets of Spello

Another image of power dominating beauty

power dominating beauty

It was around this time that the four of us separated.  Matt and Tom went to get a coffee and play cribbage while Ray and I toured the streets.  When we rejoined, Matt gave me a disparaging look and told me his phone had been stolen.  He had left it for a few minutes on a cafe table, and then it was gone.  He asked around, but had no luck.  We immediately tried calling his number, but there was no answer.  Next we sent texts to his phone in both English and Italian asking whoever had it to please, please, please give it back.  Before admitting defeat, we returned to the cafe, at which point, one of the servers brought it to us saying it had just been turned in.  We couldn’t believe it.

Afterwards, we sat to a long lunch outside in the sun.  We considered staying another night but decided to go home and check on the apartment.  On our way out of town we passed the disheveled mosaics and shook our heads at the scattered pedals.  You could see the imprint of the shoes that walked all over the mosaics.  Matt and I both commented that it reminded us of the picture on the infinite “Footprints” cards we received after Luke died (the ones that talk about the single set of footprints in times of difficulty because God must be carrying you.) But instead of prints left on sand, these were on the flowers of Spello.

It did seem symbolic; we admitted to having the most incredible luck here and couldn’t help but feel the presence of something protective.

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Back in Perugia, Matt and I entered the apartment first and did a quick scan of the rooms.  It seemed as if no robbers had busted in and that every instance of this weekend’s suspense resulted from our own distraction and negligence.  It provided for the perfect kind of excitement – a little danger and uncertainty followed by a positive outcome.

My Two Days (written by Ray)

by guest blogger Ray

Sitting by Lago Trasimeno

Me at Lago Trasimeno

Last Tuesday, Tom went with his class to Pompeii.  (It’s a city that was buried a long time ago from ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.)  So for two days, it was just me, Mom and Dad.

Waving goodbye to Tom's class

Waving goodbye to Tom’s class

Tom left on a bus at 7am, and I went to school like usual from 8-1.  I like school. I’ve made lots of new friends this year.  Some are boys and some are girls.  My least favorite class right now is Italian.  We just finished a unit on journalism.  Italians don’t have a “W” in their alphabet, but they still use “the 5 W’s” when studying newspaper articles.  They pronounce it like, “oo, wat, were, win and wyee.”  We had to read and write lots of articles.  I’m glad we are finished.  My favorite class is Math.  I got a 9 out of 10 on my last test.

Anyway, after school my parents took me to Lago Trasimeno.  This is a huge lake in Umbria that’s close to Perugia.  When we got there, we found a little pebbly area near the water and skipped rocks for a while.  I can skip a rock four times.  My dad can skip a rock at least eight times.  But my mom can’t skip at all.

Me and Dad skipping rocks

Dad and me skipping rocks

We drove further on until we got to a restaurant called Faliero.  This is a popular restaurant.  Sometimes you have to wait more than an hour to order your food.  We got there at 7:30 which is early for Italians, so we only waited 10 minutes.  This place is famous for its “torta al testo” which is a triangular sandwich filled with sausages.  That’s what I ordered.  My mom and dad split one and had a plate of gnocchi too.

Torta al testo

Torta al testo

After dinner we drove home and watched an episode of Modern Family that we bought on iTunes.

The next day after school, we took another trip.  This time we went to a city called Città di Castello.   This is a small city about one hour away.  First we went to a museum that was in an old tobacco drying warehouse.  The whole building was full of paintings by an artist named Burri.  He was an Italian captured in WWII by the Americans and put in prison.  That’s where he got the idea to do art.  His paintings are big and very different than other paintings we have seen in Italy.  Most of them were very plain.  None of them looked like anything I could recognize.  We tried to find faces and heads in the paintings.  One of the paintings looked like a human and the face of a dog, but it was hard to tell.

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After the museum we started to walk around the city.  First we went to a church.  Then we walked past an old hospital.  Next my legs started to get tired so we got gelato.  My favorite flavor is still chocolate.  Then we went to another church.  It was more interesting than the last one because they had some candles to light.  Right outside the church I saw a park and I played there for a while.  I liked the swings the best.  But my favorite part of the city was climbing the bell tower.  There were a lot of stairs and a view on top.  We were the only ones there.

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At the top of the bell tower

At the top of the bell tower

We had dinner in Città di Castello and then had to drive back to Perugia to pick up Tom.  His bus got in at 10:30 at night.  We stayed up late because the next day was Liberation Day in Italy and we didn’t have to go to school.

I liked the trips we took.  It was fun to see the lake and another city.  But one of my favorite parts of Tom’s field trip was being able to use Tom’s Husky plate while he was gone.

Go Dawgs

Go Dawgs

The Art of Cars (written by Oliver)

by guest blogger Oliver

Tom, Ray and me in Florence

Tom, Ray and me in Florence

Tonight is my last night with the Deasys here in Perugia.  My mom and I have been here for 10 days.  We landed in Rome and stayed in a room right next to the Pantheon.  I was pretty jet lagged that first day so I don’t remember much.  The next day, I got to choose where we’d go, and I decided we should see the Sistine Chapel.  It’s at the far end of the Vatican Museum so it was a super long walk.  We saw about 500 paintings and sculptures that day.  Just before we got to the end, we walked through a small gallery with some modern art and found a painting that looked just like my mom.

Even the other tourists around us were laughing.

Even the other tourists around us thought this was pretty funny.

Then we went to Florence and saw The David, climbed to the top of the Duomo, and crossed the Ponte Vecchio.  We also ate tons of gelato.  After two days, we took a train back to Perugia and have been here ever since.

We have seen many churches, museums, towers and old arches, but the best part about Italy is the cars!

Lately, I’ve been really into cars.  I read Dupont Registry  on the plane ride over and then when I got here, I saw some of my favorites in person.

The Fiat 500

One of the most popular cars in Italy is the Fiat 500.  The Fiat 500 is an affordable, four-cylinder car.  This car is popular because of its size.  It can fit through the small streets of Italy with ease.  This car gets good gas mileage, somewhere between 25 and 30 miles per gallon.  The final thing is that it is a little sporty, and you can make it look cool with a little work.  For everyday use, these are the best all-around cars.

The Fiat 500

The Fiat 500

The Ferrari

The Formula One Ferrari that I saw in Rome  has a 12-cylinder engine that pumps out speeds of over 200 mph.  It’s not just the big engine that makes it fast.  Most of it’s speed secrets lie in the aerodynamics and the material of the car.  It’s made of carbon fiber and aluminum.

We went to the Ferrari store in Rome.

We went to the Ferrari store in Rome.

The Maserati

This car is the most amazing car I’ve seen in Italy.  The Maserati Quattroporte is one of the first Maserati 4-doors (as its name states).  This is an 8-cylinder sedan coupe.  It is priced around $130,000.  This car is large and only gets around 15 miles per gallon, though, if you can buy this car then the gas money shouldn’t really be a problem.

We saw this Maserati near our hotel in Rome.

This was parked near our hotel in Rome.

The Fiat Punto

Yesterday I got to drive in a real Italian car when we took a day trip to Assisi.   We rented the Fiat Punto which is a cool, family style, sporty car equipped with manual transmission, like so many other cars in Italy.  It’s a medium-size car meant for five people, but we squeezed in six.   Also, I like the interior.  It has an easily accessable dash board and systems which make for comfortable, fast driving.  It was a good way to spend my last full day in Italy.

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I wish I could stay longer.  I told my mom and the Deasys that I would like to live here for the rest of the year with them.  I could eat hot chocolate and cream filled pastries every morning for breakfast.  Tom, Ray and I could all share a bedroom, and I could be in Tom’s class at school. I could even get a job here because Cristiano, the pasta man, taught me how to make cappelletti.  This has been a really fun trip.

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Looking back on all the things we did and all the cars I saw, I still think the best part was hanging out with Tom and Ray.

Looking back on all the things we did and all the cars I saw, I still think the best part was hanging out with Tom and Ray.

Day of the Dead

The ruins of Ancient Rome

Italy sort of celebrates the Day of the Dead.  Not with the vibrant pageantry of Mexico nor in the reflective, communal way that our family has celebrated since Luke died, but it recognizes the holiday enough to give the kids a day off from school.  Combined with All Saints Day, this long weekend justified a trip to Rome.  So on Wednesday, we hopped on a train from Perugia.  We spent Thursday counting fountains, eating gelato and dodging rain.  When Friday arrived.  I felt nostalgic.  I knew if I were home I’d be hanging paper skeletons and lighting candles.  I knew our house would be full of friends.  It would feel warm, sacred and festive.  Instead, it was just the four of us way over here.  But I still wanted that lighthearted, irreverent confrontation with death and I wanted to feel a connection with those who have died, so we did our best to create an itinerary immersed in old bones.

In front of Julius Caesar’s tomb

It started at the tomb of Julius Caesar in the heart of the Roman Forum.  His burial site actually resembles a Day of the Dead alter; there are flowers and notes strewn on nearby rocks in honor of this Roman ruler who was killed 2000 years ago.  We listened to stories of his rise to power and his betrayal by his senate friends (ex-friends, I guess).  Later, we walked to the site of his assassination.  It’s adjacent to the famous Cat Sanctuary.  For a price, you can adopt real Roman cats which are believed to be reincarnations of the ancient emperors.

Hundreds of cats roam the ruins while a group of volunteers takes care of them. There’s a little yellow and white emperor under the temple.  Caesar was stabbed somewhere in this scene.

That evening, we jumped ahead 1500 years (and millions of dead people later) to the Capuchin Crypt.  The guide-book descriptions did not do this place justice.  It was way more edgy than we expected and perfect for our day.   I still don’t quite understand what happened and why, but apparently, about 400 years ago, when the an order of Capuchin friars relocated from their old monastery to the present one at the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione, they brought the bones of their fellow monks with them.  They didn’t have enough room to bury them all, so they used the bones to create intricate mosaics and decorations all over the walls of their chapel!  Seriously.  And it’s actually pretty.  Coffee colored skulls, femurs and pelvises from thousands of bodies are arranged artistically in four little white alcoves down a warmly lit corridor.  The chandeliers that light the rooms are also made of bones  (small ones, maybe vertebrae and fingers).    Some of the bones have been put together to form a complete skeleton.  Some are just neatly stacked.  Some are arranged in the shape of flowers.  There was a message printed as we peered into one of the rooms that reads, “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…

The lighting was much better in person: orangy and atmospheric (not that anyone could ever feel “cozy” in here.)  I wish you could see the entire ceiling in these pictures.

As we were looking around, someone told us the crypt was closing early.  She told us that once a year, on the Day of the Dead, a mass is celebrated among the bones, and we were welcome to stay if we wanted.  I couldn’t believe our luck.  Tom and Ray saw it differently, though, so they chose to get gelato and take a walk with Matt while I joined about 20 live Italians and 4000 dead monks for a short service.

Later on, after we returned to our hotel, I received several emails from friends at home who were making alters, remembering people who died and keeping the spirit of this holiday strong.

Florence 23 years later

Florence back in 1990 with my mom, Stacia and Kelli

Twenty-three years ago, I spent my junior year in Florence.  This week I took a few days by myself for a little reunion with this incredible place.

Every hotel in Florence claims to be centrally located.  This dense city is tightly packed with a wealth of paintings, architecture, food, history, sculptures, craftsmanship, fashion and tourists.  I can’t imagine a greater concentration of art and admirers anywhere in the world.

Although my hotel room was dark and tiny, the view from the roof was stunning.

During the two-hour train ride from Perugia, I wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to do in Florence.  It quickly became apparent that three days is not enough time to get it all done.  It was time for an honest talk with myself.  Could I return from a stay in Florence without going inside the Duomo?  How shameful would it be to walk by the walls of the Uffizzi without going in to awe at Bottecceli’s Birth of Venus? Could I possibly pass up the chance to see the David in person?  The answer was yes, because when it gets right down to it, eating, shopping and aimless walking sounded like so much more fun.  (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Before setting out, I tried to look up some of the best streets to window shop.  As luck would have it, I found the website of Maren Erickson, an American woman offering shopping tours of the finest in Florentine leather, silk, paper and gold.  I met her at Piazza Santa Croce.  We hit it off immediately.  It turns out she is from Seattle but lives here six months out of the year.  (In fact, her daughter worked at my husband’s real estate company last year.)  Bottom line, we had a blast.  She took me to some of the most incredible stores where I met some people who have worked in the trade all their lives.  It was so fun to breeze by all the tourist traps of mass-produced, cheap goods and find the best that Florence has to offer.  

Ricardo in his silk store selling gorgeous scarves and ties

Nino’s shoe store. That’s him in the middle. Maren is on the right, and the cute girl on the left helps find the right fit.

After a couple hours, we stopped for an apertivo and decided to meet later for dinner.  So after a long walk through familiar streets and nostalgic piazzas, I met Maren on the site of an ex-prison converted-into-trattoria where we enjoyed a long, long dinner.  It was one of those nights where the problems of the world were solved, and I felt sure that I was in the company of a wise philosopher (and at times was one myself).  I’m sure it was due in no small part to the bottle of Chianti that we ordered, but nonetheless, we had such a good time that we made dinner plans for the following night.

Dinner with Maren

Big meals were sort of the theme of my stay.  The next afternoon I planned my day around a solo lunch at Zeb.  A friend from Perugia told me that it’s one of the best spots in town.  I was the first to arrive at this tiny place and sat at on one of the 15 stools surrounding part of the kitchen.  Behind the counter was Alberto and his mom, Giuseppina.  They were super sweet to me and called me “tesoro” (treasure) when they dropped off a new plate of food.  I went completely Italian on them and ordered every single course offered (pasta, meat, vegetables, dessert, coffee). I managing to finish every bite, more out of appreciation than out of hunger.  I loved it all.  The best plate was the pici al pesto.

The counter at Zeb

Mamma Giuseppina and Owner Alberto

Before dinner with Maren, I took my stuffed self to a couple alternative museums.  The Salvatore Ferragamo museum had a really cool Marilyn Monroe exhibit featuring all the shoes she owned by the famous Italian designer.  I also learned a couple things about Ferragamo himself.  For one thing, he studied anatomy so he could know how to build the perfect shoe.  Then I headed to Palazzo Strozzi to peek at a 1930’s art exhibit.  I don’t know much about designer shoes or 1930’s Italian art, so both made me feel a little clueless.  Then I took a long walk up to Piazza Michelangelo which looks out over the entire city.  And who should I see but a copy of the David!  I got a little Renaissance art after all.

On top of Piazza Michelangelo

The next day I had to pack up and head home.

I left Perugia kind of nervous about traveling solo.  Sometimes I feel self-conscious when I’m walking around by myself, or especially when I go out to a restaurant alone.  There’s no one with whom to share the new experience, and there’s no one to look at when I eat.  Sometimes I had to fight the urge not to think of myself as a bit of a loser.

I decided there are two virtues I’d like more of: courage and confidence.  The past few days taught me that courage is a choice.  I can identify my fears and consciously face them.  (This trip offered some opportunity for that.) Confidence, on the other hand, is not a choice, but is a result of acting courageously.  In other words, self-assurance was earned once I confronted my fears.

There, enough big thoughts.  Do you like my new leather boots?